At 10-year mark for Afghan war, peace groups decline, struggle for visibility - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

At 10-year mark for Afghan war, peace groups decline, struggle for visibility

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Posted: Sunday, October 9, 2011 12:15 am

When Steve Nebel talks about efforts to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he is reminded of Sisyphus. In Greek mythology, the gods punished the king by forcing him to push a boulder up a hill. It rolled back down before Sisyphus could reach the top, forcing him to begin anew the endless task.

Nebel, a founding member of the Tacoma, Wash., chapter of Veterans for Peace, wants to keep public attention focused on ending two wars where more than 6,200 U.S. service members have died and trillions of dollars spent.

But interest has flagged as the Obama administration has drawn down forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the attention of Americans and their leaders has pivoted to the faltering national economy.

"In spite of the fact that it seems like a futile gesture in many regards, at the same time I think ... of all the different people we've reached and the number of ways we've reached them through the years," said Nebel, who fought in Vietnam.

Members of peace groups say their efforts have educated people, caused some to question the government's actions and prompted some to speak and take action. The fight must continue to end the militarism they see tightening its grip, they say.

"I feel basically the things that Dwight Eisenhower warned us about in 1961 have come to pass in the United States," said Mark Jensen, a founding member of United for Peace of Pierce County, Wash., referring to the president's warning to the nation about the "military-industrial complex" during his farewell address.

People for Peace, Justice and Healing formed in the days after 9/11 when the "drums of war started to beat very quickly," said Sallie Shawl, a co-founder.

Its weekly meetings birthed Jensen's group, United for Peace, 13 months later.

Over the years, the groups have held marches and vigils, organized lectures and educational events, and lobbied lawmakers.

Nebel and his wife, Kristi, said they weren't politically active until joining the anti-war movement. The same is true of Jensen, and of others who joined the cause, they said.

"I think there's a renaissance that hasn't died in the 10 years of people who have become engaged and aware as activists," Kristi Nebel said.

Not died, but certainly thinned.

Dr. Michael Heaney, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan who has studied the contemporary anti-war movement, said it has essentially demobilized; he said nothing short of the possibility of another war will re-energize it.

"It's not a mass movement anymore," he said. "All we're seeing right now is the hardcore anti-war folks."

Heaney said there are key differences between the current wars and Vietnam, the nation's last extended conflict, that illustrate why the present-day anti-war movement has diminished: the draft is gone, the U.S. death toll is smaller, and national leaders aren't fearful of social movements as they were in the 1960s.

And while the pace of withdrawal may not suit everyone, he added, President Obama is drawing down forces in both countries.

Jensen said the movement is feeling a renewed determination. Activists are propelled by the open-ended presence of U.S service members and contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that Obama hasn't stood up to the military-industrial complex, Jensen said.

"What are these wars all about? Why is it so hard to stop them?" Steve Nebel asked. "One of the reasons is, of course, that they are a huge source of income for corporate entities."

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